Amid the cacophony of the retail marketplace – partly due to, and in spite of, beef’s high price compared to competing proteins – beef remains an essential centerpiece of the retail meat case.

For one thing, beef’s high relative price means that it rings the cash register longer and louder than other meats. In fact, according to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, beef accounted for more than 52% of the dollars spent for meat at retail in 2008.

By way of comparison, chicken accounted for 22% of the dollars spent on meat at retail. In that same year, beef accounted for 39.3% of the pounds of meat purchased at retail.

For another, consumers love beef. Though consumers traded down during the Great Recession, increasing their demand for ground beef and value cuts rather than middle meats, they appeared to trade away from beef entirely only as a last resort. In the last couple of years, beef demand has actually grown.

Moreover, retailers continue to use fresh beef as a point of differentiation between themselves and competitors. This differentiation can be based on such things as unit cost, consistency and quality, or stocking brands the competitor doesn’t.

“Beef is the largest category in all of HEB,” explains Mike Jarzombek, vice president of meat operations for HEB. The San Antonio-based company has 305 stores in Texas and 42 in Mexico. “It (beef) towers above grocery, pharmacy…everything. It’s over $700 million in annual sales.”

HEB offer nine lines of beef, from a value program aimed at its lowest-income shoppers, to premium lines like Prime and Wagyu. For more of Jarzombek’s thoughts, see “A Retailer Speaks On Beef, Consumers & The Future."

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